Questioning Authority From the Backroom

Posted April 15, 2012 at 11:58pm

Sometimes it’s not enough to just commentate on the myriad problems plaguing our current political system. You have to drink and smoke, too.

At least, that’s how the gents behind “Backroom Politics,” a weekly Internet radio show broadcast from Shelly’s Backroom (1331 F St. NW), play it.

Justin Russell, the show’s moderator, said the weekly broadcast — it airs Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Blog Talk Radio network — grew out of the semiregular bull sessions that organically arose while puffing stogies and bending elbows with pals at Shelly’s. Those pals, however, just happened to have decades of Congressional and executive branch experience tucked beneath their belts.

The crop of contributors includes: Russell, a veteran government affairs operative; ex-Rep. Al Swift (D-Wash.); Bob Hynes, a one-time House Rules Committee staffer and former legislative counsel for then-House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-Mich.); Allen Moore, deputy chief of staff for former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and an undersecretary of Commerce for President Ronald Reagan; Ralph Winnie Jr., director of the Eurasia Center’s China Program; and public relations consultant Carl Tuvin.

We’ll pause a moment here so you can Google any/all of them, though Swift insists their virtual anonymity is actually quite liberating.

“We have the experience without having the stardom. And it gives us enormous freedom to speak the truth,” Swift said of their spotlight-free existences.

When everyone is in town, the panelists make a point of congregating at their beloved cigar lounge. If anyone happens to be traveling — as is often the case now that Russell is running the campaign for Republican Dakota Wood, a Marine vet eyeing the seat being vacated by Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) — the show goes on via telephone.

Discussion topics run the gamut from redistricting woes to the “uselessness of the Senate filibuster.”

“It’s the unfiltered, nonsterile Washington talk that we do,” Russell said of their deliberately down-in-the-weeds agenda.

According to Swift, the group thrives because it is “more interested in civil discussion than winning an argument.”

Which is not to say heated arguments don’t happen. Participants have gone to the mat on: tax/fiscal policy, law enforcement (police rights), foreign affairs and the perennial D.C. parlor game, “How Broken Is the System.”

Special guests pop in from time to time, ranging from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to a former House floor clerk. And Russell looks forward to inviting sitting Members of Congress and staffers to the show in the near future — but he warned that the group will not tolerate PR-vetted, boilerplate blather such as “the scrub view that has to go on MSNBC or Fox News.”